“There are no words. It’s heartbreaking,” Ace Kvale, outdoor photographer, told SNEWS as he was leaving the Salt Lake City protest against President Trump’s controversial announcement to downsize both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
With much resistance but little surprise, President Trump officially announced this afternoon he will reduce the size of the Utah monuments. Both reductions are part of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendations on scaling back monuments.
Kvale says the overall vibe of the protest was peaceful and the energy among the protestors was positive. We received estimations ranging from 500 to 3,000 protestors. He says there was a lot of chanting and signs, but most powerful was a heartbeat-like drumming created by gatherers tapping their chests.
Katie Boué, outdoor advocate, says the crowd was smaller today than on Saturday’s rally, but the energy was higher. “People knew the stakes were higher today,” she says.
Scenes from Salt Lake City
The fate of the monuments
Bears Ears, which was 1.35 million acres, will now encompass two monument units, Shash Jáa and Indian Creek. Shash Jáa is approximately 129,980 acres and Indian Creek is approximately 71,896 acres. Both will continue to be jointly managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.
Grand Staircase-Escalante, which was 1.9 million acres, will now consist of three distinct monument units: the Grand Staircase (209,993 acres), Kaiparowits (551,034 acres), and Escalante Canyons (242,836 acres). All three will be managed by the BLM. The three new monument areas collectively total 1,003,863 acres.
We’ll do the math for you: That reduces Bears Ears by 85 percent and cuts down Grand Staircase-Escalante to about half its former size.
Trump-splaining his decision
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is pleased with this reduction, introduced the president before the big announcement. He described how he told the president that he had been blindsided by the past administration’s actions on Bears Ears and asked for the president’s help in fixing “this disaster”.
President Trump made his announcement, expressing how the goal of this decision is to help the hard-working people of Utah. He said: “Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong,” the President said to applause, inside the capitol and away from the dissention of the protesters.
"The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best, and you know the best how to take care of you land. You know how to protect it. And you know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come. Your timeless bond with the outdoors, should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away. They don’t know your land, and truly, they don’t care for your land like you do. But from now on, that won’t matter. I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action – to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens. They think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong,” the President said to applause, inside the capitol and away from the dissension of the protesters.
He went on to say that the Antiquities Act says that the smallest necessary area should be held for special protection, and previous administrations ignored that standard to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water.
Outdoor industry reaction
Susan Hand, owner of Willow Canyon Outdoor store, located at the base of the Vermilion Cliffs on the Grand Staircase, is concerned that extractive industry and other potential developments could diminish the appeal of visiting the region.
“Our business opened in 1994, prior to the presidential proclamation that established the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. At our shop, we noted an immediate interest in the area once it had the status of a national monument, and we’ve seen visitation oriented to the monument grow steadily in the twenty years since,” she says. Hand is honored to serve as the director of the board of Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners.
“When we reduce or degrade the outdoors, we hurt the outdoor industry. Moreover, it does damage to travel and tourism in general, which is the backbone of our local economy—hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and retail in general will suffer. In fact, our quality of life is tied to these protected public lands, and as they are degraded, so is our very existence,” Hand says.
In a swift reaction, Arc’Teryx just announced that it will donate $30,000 to The Conservation Alliance’s Public Lands Defense Fund to help make grants protecting the US public lands system.
The Outdoor Industry Association says this decision is part of a long pattern of attacks against public lands and will harm hundreds of local Utah communities and businesses, will stifle millions of dollars in annual economic activity, and it also threatens thousands of jobs in the region. “Outdoor Industry Association and the outdoor industry view the announcement by President Trump as detrimental to the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy and the 7.6 million American jobs it supports,” Amy Roberts, Executive Director, said in a statement.
The North Face Donates $100,000 to Help Build Bears Ears “Visit with Respect” Education Center.
Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, points out that more than 600 million acres are held in the federal trust. She says these lands provide respite and inspiration for people and spectacular places to hike, camp, and watch wildlife.
“Trump’s unprecedented, illegal action is a brutal blow to our public lands, an affront to Native Americans and a disgrace to the presidency,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “He wants to hand over these lands to private industry to mine, frack, bulldoze and clear-cut until there's nothing left for our children and grandchildren.”
Spivak feels this is bound to impact tourism and the outdoor industry. “No one wants to walk through a fracking field or a sprawling industrial coal mine. These are some of the last untouched landscapes in or country and sacred sights to native Americans,” she says.
A legal battle in the works for Trump
Patagonia will be announcing a potential lawsuit against the Trump Administration for the protection of Bears Ears National Monument not Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. One lawsuit will be filed by the Inter Tribal Coalition. “We expect this to be the first suit filed,” Patagonia said in a press release. Also, Patagonia along with Friends of Cedar Mesa, Utah Dine Bikeyah and Archaeology Southwest and others will file a day or two after the Inter Tribal Coalition’s suit.
As far as the Grand Staircase-Escalante, there will be a separate friends group that files a lawsuit to protect it. Patagonia’s standing was stronger in a suit to protect Bears Ears National Monument.
What can you do?
Amy Roberts says to let your elected officials know you oppose this decision. Suggestions include:
- Write a letter to your Senators and Representatives urging them to continue to protect America’s public lands
- Tweet or call your elected officials, letting them know you oppose this decision
- Join us at the 2018 OIA Capitol Summit
- Stay informed through the OIA Advocacy Center
“I find today's announcement troubling on a much deeper level than just the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, says Boué. “This attack on two national monuments opens the doors for assaults on all our public lands.”